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"Formed in Faith" College Athletic Series Spotlights UNC-W’s Jenny Garrity

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The cover story in the September issue of the NCCatholics, “Formed in Faith,” featured stories on five Catholics involved in college athletics in the Diocese of Raleigh. The series continues as we showcase other Catholic men and women “Formed in Faith,” whose faith lives play an important role in who they are as individuals and in their professional lives in working with young adults. We continue our online series with Coach Jenny Garrity.

Coach Jenny Garrity
Women’s Tennis Coach
UNC-Wilmington 

Raised on a solid Episcopalian foundation, Jenny Garrity has always known the support of God. The oldest of four siblings, she and her family were very active in their church in Eugene, Oregon. “I have always felt a sense of being part of a bigger team,” said Garrity. “Having a life of faith, I feel extra strong and resilient in my life.”

She attended Catholic high school for two years in Oregon before the family moved to New Jersey. Enjoying her own success on the court, she began researching East Coast colleges and found North Carolina State University. On her recruiting visit in 1989, she had breakfast with Jim Valvano, the head basketball coach, and North Carolina felt like home. She chose to attend NCSU and joined the women’s tennis team. She played from 1989-1992 and was a two-time All-ACC team selection earning the most wins in NCSU’s women’s tennis history.

After graduation in 1992, she was hired as an assistant coach on the women’s tennis team. It was then that she began dating her future husband, Jimmy Garrity, who was also working in the athletic department. “My husband comes from a big, Irish Catholic family,” she says, “and once we were engaged I wanted to share his faith.” Jenny’s parents were “extremely supportive,” she says. “My mother understood because coincidentally, she had joined the Episcopalian Church when she married my father.” Jenny entered the RCIA program at St. Michael Parish in Cary and was welcomed into the Catholic Church a few months before her wedding in 1994. She became the head women’s tennis coach the following year, spent three seasons as the NC State head coach, then the next two years as head coach at the University of Kansas.

To be closer to family, the couple came back to North Carolina in 1999 and settled in Wilmington. While looking for their church home, they found St. Mark Parish. “It’s a very family-friendly church,” Jenny says.  The couple now has three children: Kasey, 13; Corey Michael, 8; and Mary Carlyn, 6. “We try to impress upon our kids that we’re living a life to honor God, who is a lot bigger than us,” she says.

She is now beginning her 11th year as head coach of the UNC-Wilmington Women’s Tennis team, and Jimmy Garrity is an Assistant Coach with the Women’s Basketball team. Jenny finds that athletes from widely differing religious backgrounds are still receptive to what she tries to teach her own children. “My team understands that God bestows many gifts upon us, and we need to honor Him by respecting and honoring those gifts.” Garrity has led the women’s tennis team to eight consecutive winning seasons including a national ranking in 2008-09, a first in the history of the program.

In both her coaching and her family life, Jenny says, “I get a lot of strength from prayer, knowing that I’m loved. My faith has been here for me through amazing and tough times. The freedom of being able to have it with me at all times, not just Sunday mornings, is so important. I use it and rely on it every day to help make the right decisions and to help me lead by example.”

Our Formed in Faith series will continue next week with a story on Charles Stephenson, strength and conditioning coordinator at North Carolina State University.